Artist Spotlight: Roberta Harris at The Women’s Museum

I think of the stair step in my work as going up to life. That's where the UP comes in and the name of the show. It's UP, it's about joy, it's about life, and going after life with gusto. - Roberta Harris

This is the first installment of Artist Spotlight on and I couldn't have asked for a better beginning. Last week I had the opportunity to walk around The Women's Museum with Houston-based artist Roberta Harris. Harris is as elegant a person as she is an artist. Her exhibition UP is on display at The Women's Museum through September 6th, 2009. Go see her work - it's meaningful and full of life.

ILID Transcript for Artist Spotlight with Roberta Harris at The Women's Museum:

Roberta Harris interviewing with

Hi. I'm Jennifer Conley and you're watching Artist Spotlight on We'll be talking with Roberta Harris whose current art exhibition is on display at the Women's Museum through September 6th, 2009.

Jennifer Conley: When did you seriously start working as an artist?

Roberta Harris: Well, I think I seriously paid attention to art when i was about 8 years old, because i remember going to visit my uncle in new jersey, and walking in his kitchen and he had apples on the ceiling and the walls and the cabinets, just all over the place, and I mentioned the apples and he had told me that he had hand painted all the apples. He was a muralists. Anyway, so I didn't know about hand painting apples.

I have always loved art. I had been making art since I was a little kid. My great dream was to study art and to go to New York and study art, which eventually I was able to do. I've taught, I've really loved teaching. So that's been a wonderful experience for me, too.

Jennifer Conley: So your uncle was an influence?

Roberta Harris: He was an influence. But my mother and father were great influences.

Jennifer Conley: Were they artists as well?

Red Apples Roberta HarrisRoberta Harris: My father was a master craftsman who worked with glass and mirror, and he came from Poland when he was a teenager. And when I was a little kid, my dad's studio was the one car garage next to our house, and at night I would go out into the garage and want to help him. I learned a lot from my dad, working with materials, and learning that necessity is the mother of invention and creating things. There was so much reflection, of course, in the mirror and the glass and that's a big part of my work whether it's the gold... Even standing in front of this painting, it's very exciting for me to see the gold and the reflection of the color as you walk around it. Sometimes, if you're looking right in front of it, or standing, you may not see that. But if you move, you're going to start seeing a lot of activity when you paint. That comes from when I was a kid. Wanting that in my work as a part of it, that helps make it complete for me. This painting called O Sady around the corner, the first one you see when you walk off the elevator, I mean just to see that reflection and have it turn colors, that's all a part of that experience.

My mom loved mosaics, and she did other things as a profession, but as a hobby she loved mosaics. So, I was always around seeing how she would put all these little squares together, and that was a fascinating thing to watch. It's all part of my artistic experience. So, I think it came from home. It came from growing up around that. Otherwise we didn't have a lot of art in my home, we had some little bitty prints. My parents weren't that thrilled about having a daughter as an artist. They didn't think you could number one make a living doing that or girls are supposed to teach or maybe be a pediatrician, but especially you're supposed to get married, that kind of thing, you know, when I was growing up. It took them a while to warm up to the idea of having an artist.

Roberta Harris birds waiting(video fade) ...part of the material I used in my paintings and this piece is called waiting. In the beginning when I first starting cutting out birds, I'd make stacks of birds and I was waiting to put them in the painting. But then i got fascinated with all the stacks and I didn't want to take any art off my stack. Anyway, but this reminds me how we all wait for something. We all have been waiting for this day to come. I have been waiting for the show. You have been waiting to begin your website. We all are waiting. And this is almost like a runway, or like planes, you are waiting to take off and go up.

Jennifer Conley: Is that what the birds represent to you?

Roberta Harris: The birds are very spiritual. Something that's real important about my work, too, is that almost all of the icons that i work with, whether it be the birds, the squares, the magic sticks, have been very culturally significant. It's not just for me, but for all of time. They are images that people in any culture can identify with and have spiritual ... (video fade)

Jennifer Conley: When did you find your style?

Roberta Harris SticksRoberta Harris: I think it's a process. That's the one thing that all student's want. When am I going to find it? When am I going to find what my style is? But it's not something that comes easily. With me, you know, I don't remember the moment it happened, except that I have been working with squares and geometric forms for many years and they keep showing up in my work.

I know a number of years ago I was invited by the Kimbell in Fort Worth to show my work and be a part of the Artist Eye series where artists take members around. I had 200 people following me around a museum at one point and they asked me to talk about anything in there collection that I wanted to talk about. I started in front of my own work and talked about the patterning and all the squares in my own work. I took them on a visual journey to the earliest piece in their collection, which was a Chinese vase - ancient. I explained at the time, the black and white checkered board pattern on that vase, to those people that had created that, it was like a stair-step going up to a higher power.

Geometric forms throughout history have always been either very decorative or very spiritual. Only a few artists have really, I think, tried to pull the two together like Mondrian, was one of those people, I attempt to do that in my work. I think of the stair-step in my work as going up to life. That's where the UP comes in and the name of the show. It's UP, it's about joy, it's about life, and going after life with gusto.

The images above sourced from Flickr: Interviewing with!, Gallery Talk with Roberta Harris, Gallery Talk with Robert Harris by thewomensmuseum and Opening Reception of Roberta Harris: UP at The Women’s Museum by jenniferconley.

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